Avian influenza causes rehab centers to rethink policies

So serious is the threat that state officials are noting the highly contagious avian-specific flu disease has been detected in Ohio-based gulls, eagles, geese (above) and, in domestic fowl, a flock of pen-raised chickens in Franklin County.

In an effort to help stymie the serious threat to wild and domestic bird populations brought about by the avian flu, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has issued an alarm to the state’s approximately 70 wildlife rehabilitators.

The agency is advising rehabilitators to take steps to ensure their operations do not become portals for the disease

So serious is the threat that state officials are noting the highly contagious avian-specific flu disease has been detected in Ohio-based gulls, eagles, geese and in case of domestic fowl, a flock of pen-raised chickens in Franklin County.

Among the suggested steps include greater focus on such “biosecurity” measures as ensuring increased sanitation efforts, increased observation of birds in the rehabilitators’’care, and quarantining of suspected infected birds.

“Please note,” says a March 25 memo by the wildlife division to wildlife rehabilitators, “birds testing positive will require humane euthanasia and quarantine of your facility to prevent spread. This may also trigger a foreign animal disease investigation by the “US Department of Agriculture).”

To that end, the wildlife division is recommending that rehabilitators “limit the use of birds in educational programs,” particularly off-site; for care center staff who also have domestic fowl or pet birds at home to – at a minimum – wear different clothing at work from home; house waterfowl separately from other birds; and disinfect vehicles, equipment, and cages.

Some licensed rehabilitators are taking the severest of steps by refusing to accept any new birds of any species for care. Among such rehabilitators is Lake Metroparks in Lake County, which operates the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center in Kirtland.

This licensed and highly respected animal/bird rehabilitation operation annually receives 700 to 1,000 birds for rehabilitative services.

In fact, Lake Metroparks is maximizing the wildlife division’s suggested guidelines in other ways, too. It is removing all bird feeders at any park where they have been assembled for attracting both birds as well as birders, parks officials are saying.

Similarly, the agency is discouraging waterfowl from visiting the pond at Penitentiary Glen, the park where the Wildlife Center is located.

“The decision to not accept birds for rehabilitation as we enter our busy season, while difficult, was made in the best interest of our program bird collection. The problem is, the disease is easily transmissible and many birds do not show symptoms,” says Tammy O’Neil, the Kevin P. Clinton’s Wildlife Care Manager

Lake Metroparks does not have the space to “appropriately quarantine birds at our facility the way larger organizations such as the Cleveland or Akron zoos may be able to,” O’Neil says.

O’Neil said she, her staff and parks officials will stay abreast of the latest developments with avian influenza, “and update our protocols and intake policies throughout the summer.”

“The Wildlife Center continues to work with fellow wildlife rehabilitators, ODNR and other agencies to contribute to minimizing the spread of avian influenza and to help wildlife the best we can during this outbreak,” O’Neil said.

Categories: Ohio – Jeffrey Frischkorn

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